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Centre asks for third extension in SC

Centre asks for third extension in SC

Publication: Organiser
Date: February 10, 2008
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=223&page=2

Ram Sethu campaign vindicated, UPA forced to rethink

After Navy chief, Coast Guard DG blasts Baalu's claim

After the Navy chief, the Director-General of Coast Guards has expressed serious reservation on the viability of the controversial Sethusamudram project. The Ram Sethu Raksha Samiti had in the last one year, agitating for the protection of the ancient most monument of Hindu faith, raised well-documented extensive logistical objections on the project. It was proved that the project is a navigational disaster, that it is unviable and an ecological outrage.

The Centre was, however, forced to rethink and perhaps even defer the project after the huge response to the same Ram Sethu agitation. Over a million people from all over the country converged in the capital last month to express solidarity with the agitation. Equally successful was the "Chakka jam" organised nationwide by the Ram Sethu Raksha Samiti earlier in October. The Centre's flip-flop on the existence of the historicity of Sri Ram further angered the people all over the country.

Adding fuel to the Ram Sethu controversy, Director-General of Indian Coast Guard has cautioned that the Sethusamudram project poses a national security hazard and also conveyed his concern over the project to the government.

"We have already mounted a strong vigil on the country's southern coastal waters. Projects like the Sethusamudram could bring in more security problems," said Coast Guard chief Vice Admiral R.F. Contractor.

The Centre, meanwhile, seems tied up with political compulsions from within and outside to give a response to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a batch of petitions relating to the continuation of the project. Already the Supreme Court has stayed dredging activities in or around Ram Sethu.

Appearing before a Bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) R. Mohan informed the Court on January 31, that the Centre is yet to finalise the affidavit to be filed in relation to the matter.

The candid admission by the DG came on the sidelines of a media interaction on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of ICG. However, he added that security measures would be put in place once the channel becomes operational.

His view follows the comment made by naval chief Vice-Admiral Sureesh Mehta who said the project could hamper the movement of bigger vessels, including those employed by the Indian Navy.

When asked whether the Coast guard had conveyed its concerns to the government, Contractor said that both the Navy and Coast Guard were asked to give their views prior to the project being cleared.

Contractor hinted at the close proximity of India-Sri Lanka maritime border as the cause of worry. The Coast Guard had mounted a round-the-clock aerial and sea vigil in the Palk Bay as well as Gulf of Mannar to guard against infiltration of Sri Lankan armed militants into India. Though the number of Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka had dropped this year, after almost touching a high of 16,619 last year, "security centres are active in all places where antecedents of refugees coming from Sri Lanka are being checked," he added.

Cong wants project delayed, hints Moily
Despite pressure from coalition ally DMK, the Congress is ready for a detailed archaeological survey to ascertain various issues raised over Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP).

Congress media department chairman M. Veerappa Moily said, "The Supreme Court has opened up a lot of issues. If it is required and the Supreme Court desires so, we are prepared to conduct an archaeological study to ascertain facts. These are not issues that can be bulldozed."

Meanwhile, Culture Minister Ambika Soni said the ASI could not give a definite view on the project without undertaking some kind of survey. She also said the government would take into consideration various inputs, including the security concerns expressed over the project, before it takes a decision on it.

"The Archaeological Survey of India cannot give a view definitely on whether this can be declared as site of national importance or not without undertaking some kind of survey," Soni was reported to have said.

"These would be inputs before the government before it takes a decision or goes ahead," Soni said. She said the ASI has never undertaken any kind of survey or exploration. "So it is very difficult for us to give any opinion based on first hand knowledge," she said.

For all practical purposes, a fresh study will push the project back by several months, and help the Congress prevent it from becoming a major issue in the next general election.

Moily also indicated the party was firm despite the opposition of the DMK, which wants early implementation of the project. When asked that Shipping Minister T.R. Baalu, who belongs to DMK, has been pressing for early implementation, Moily said, "Baalu's Ministry is the implementing agency. The entire project does not go by what one Ministry has to say."

Meanwhile, AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa, has moved a petition in Supreme Court to declare the Ram Sethu a national monument.

Moily's view clearly indicated that the party is trying to buy time over the issue, which has become a political hot potato of sorts lately. By getting a time extension of another month for filing affidavit in the Supreme Court, the government is ensuring that the issue is put in cold storage.

Playing down the security concerns raised by the Coast Guard, Moily said: "There should be a holistic view on this... There may be a security problem, but this is not for the entire nation. This is not what the Coast Guard Director-General has pointed out." When asked if there was a security problem, Moily said: "This you should ask NDA's Defence Minister because the project had been passed by NDA and we are just implementing the project."

The statement by the DG gave a good handle to the leading Opposition party BJP that decried the government's attempts to override such a serious concern. On January 31, the BJP upped the ante against the government on the viability of the project. "We are not against the Sethusamudram project. But if the senior-most official of the Coast Guard is talking about security concerns, it is a big thing," said BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The VHP has also reacted to the security concerns raised by the Coast Guard and said no one should be allowed to play with the national security.

"As, experts of different fields have already expressed concerns over the project, the government should file an affidavit immediately before the Supreme Court to save Ram Sethu," said Vinod Bansal, media chief of the Rameswaram Ram Sethu Raksha Manch, Delhi.

Pointing out that the Navy chief and Coast Guard chief are the two final authorities, entrusted with the task of national security, Bansal said the government should scrap the project to ensure safety and security of the region and save the taxpayers' money.

On January 16, the Court directed the Centre to file its affidavit within two weeks following which hearing in the matter was to take place.

The Bench comprising of Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal allowed four weeks time to the Centre posting the matter in the first week of March. Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, who has filed two petitions challenging the government's decision to destroy the natural bridge, urged the Court to direct the Centre to file separate affidavits on the aspects of alignment of the project and on the investigations conducted by the government to determine the historicity of the Ram Sethu.

The government had incurred a loss of face following its affidavit filed in apex court in September 2007. In its bid to rubbish the petitioner's claims of declaring Ram Sethu an ancient monument, the government declared that the mythological text of Ramayan could not be considered a "historical record" for lack of any scientific study or proof. It thus refuted the "existence or the occurrence of events depicted therein".

Courting controversy for its alleged denial of Lord Ram, the Centre withdrew the Ministry of Culture's affidavit from court promising to file a better one after conducting a detailed study of the objections raised by the petitioners. An expert committee constituted for this purpose submitted its report to the government, which is to finalise its response to be given to Court.

GoM fails to reach accord
Centre is playing games with Hindu sentiments and with the Supreme Court. Ever since the Madras HC order of June 19, 2007, Centre has dodged a reply about declaring Rama Sethu a heritage monument. If the UPA has a great concern for Bhagwan Sri Ram, what is the problem in declaring Rama Sethu rashtriya dharohar (national monument)?

It is shocking that irresponsible statements should be made in the Hon'ble Court without reading the 8,000 pages of evidence submitted on over 150 topics related to the project disaster.

Hurting the sentiments of Hindus and other citizens worldwide seems to have become a pastime with many.

A group of ministers (GoM), tasked to draft an affidavit explaining the cultural significance of Ram Sethu, met in New Delhi on January 30 but failed to reach an agreement on the issue. The Rs 2,600 crore project envisages dredging the walkway to reduce sailing time for ships.

The GoM-comprising external affairs minister and the government's chief negotiator Pranab Mukherjee, minister of culture Ambika Soni, and minister of shipping T.R. Baalu-was formed last week to resolve differences between two separate affidavits drafted by the ministries of culture and shipping. The affidavit has been sought by the Supreme Court.

Baalu, one of the staunchest supporters of the project, is in favour of taking a strong stand against the Hindu protesters. But his cabinet colleague Ambika Soni believes the move will further alienate Hindus in north India, and could cost the Congress party dear in five states where elections are due later this year.

The apex court has been awaiting this affidavit since 14 September, when the government withdrew its original statement and asked for three months to study the issue.

The Madras High Court had originally asked the government to file an affidavit explaining the cultural significance of the Ram Sethu. The court had also asked if the government had conducted any archaeological study of the Sethu. A three-judge bench of the court had upheld its order.

Litigant Subramanian Swamy says the government may refer this investigation to the National Heritage Commission, which would "put the project in cold storage for all practical purposes." Calls to the ministry of culture and shipping went unreturned.

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